Revisiting Reader Response: Contemporary Nonfiction Children's Literature as Remixes

By Graff, Jennifer M.; Shimek, Courtney | Language Arts, March 2020 | Go to article overview

Revisiting Reader Response: Contemporary Nonfiction Children's Literature as Remixes


Graff, Jennifer M., Shimek, Courtney, Language Arts


This [Giant Squid] is really a cool book. It's nonfiction and fiction. It's both. I mean it's mostly nonfiction with a bit of fiction, too. I mean it's fun to read and you learn a lot. You can have both in a book now and it's totally fine. See [pointing to award seal]? It even won an award.

-Katy (pseudonym), third-grade student

As teacher educators, literacy scholars, and avid readers of contemporary nonfiction children's literature,1 we readily connect with Katy's comments about Candace Fleming and Eric Rohmann's award-winning nonfiction picturebook Giant Squid (2016). Like Katy, we have noticed how creators2 of contemporary nonfiction children's literature seem to be responding to the longstanding call for an increase in nonfiction or informational texts for young readers (Duke, 2000; Pappas, 1993; Yopp & Yopp, 2012) and for more appealing nonfiction texts (Livingston, Kurkijan, Young, & Pringle, 2004; Moss, 2003) while also responding to curriculum standards for informational texts (Common Core State Standards [CCSS], 2010). Contemporary nonfiction children's literature also seems to reflect our societal shift to more visual and digital-oriented environments and our longstanding preference for narrative (Bruner, 1991; Pappas, 1993; Short, 2018). As a result, readers of contemporary nonfiction children's literature have probably noticed a combination of narrative, lyrical, poetic, and expository styles as well as varied formats and designs that give equal weight to-if not privileging-the visual (Moss, 2003; Pappas, 2006; Rohloff & May, 2017; Shimek, 2019).

The more we pondered the evolution of nonfiction children's literature in concert with-and in response to-larger societal trends, the more we gravitated toward the concepts of mashups, remixes, and participatory cultures that are part of the ethos of new literacies (Knobel & Lankshear, 2008; 2014). While these concepts are more readily associated with media and digital technologies, they do not preclude more traditional texts that are often identified as "peripheral" instances of new literacies (Knobel & Lankshear, 2014). Operating with the understanding of genres as dynamic, fluid constructions that are socio-historically bound and help us construct understanding (Bazerman, 1997; Duke, Caughlin, Juzwik, & Martin, 2012) and acknowledging how book awards can help shape what are exemplars of particular genres, we embarked on a reading exploration of books designated for young readers that were selected for at least one of three major nonfiction/informational children's literature awards within the past decade: the National Council of Teachers of English's Orbis Pictus Award for Outstanding Nonfiction, the American Library Association's Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Medal, and the National Science Teachers Association's Outstanding Science Trade Books.

Within our corpus of nonfiction trade books, we explored how contemporary nonfiction children's literature reflected literary mashups and remixes. Additionally, we contemplated how contemporary nonfiction children's literature, as literary remixes, might help educators foster a more collaborative and participatory approach to learning about the world in elementary school classrooms. How might contemporary nonfiction children's literature extend beyond serving as models of writing structures and of scientific inquiry to help facilitate readers' construction of knowledge through practices of producing, sharing, and negotiating (Jenkins, 2006) that often occur when responding to children's literature? How might this literature demonstrate and invite interconnectedness among people and disciplines rather than individualism, and in doing so provide more nuanced and inclusive opportunities for elementary school students to transact with and respond to contemporary nonfiction children's literature as engaged participants in the world?

In this article, we share some of our determinations about those wonderings. …

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